A Fan’s Tribute: Shine on you crazy diamond!

Happy Birthday, Leo!

I’m waiting.

I’m waiting for the day when there’s some appreciation—the day when people finally see the truth that’s hauntingly lingered before them for so long.

I sit and wait but there’s so little of the truth out there, that it can be hard to comprehend it in its entirety.

There have been some truly great footballers in the past—stories that change you as a person and make you believe; if you work hard enough, the world will bow down before you and chant your name in a transcendental chorus that will hauntingly echo through history.

Football never ceases to amaze me and in all my time as a fan, if someone asked me for the one person who changed it all, it’ll be Messi.

I am still trying to understand how one man can be so limitless. How is it possible for one person to change the course of history so significantly, names in record books once untouched have been scratched on and written over to the point where no matter where you look, all you see is his name in glaring bold?

The way he moves, the way he gets away from those chasing his ghost, the way he puts all those around him to shame with a flick as easy as the smile on his face… Is it all real, or just manufactured reality? An existence produced to bring us joy from that which we cannot ever fully understand?

30 years of life, and there’s still more joy to come from the pot of gold that won’t stop giving.

I want to try and do justice to the man for he has rarely been treated with the love and admiration he deserves from those witnessing his magic.

From humble beginnings, a man rose above everyone else to shine.

Stadiums are filled with thousands of people every week to watch men play with a ball full of air. Football is arguably the most insignificant sport from a cynic’s eyes—90 minutes of men trying to find the back of the net; a short-lived claim to fame. It is redundant, and yet we love it. It is pointless, and yet millions across the world swear by it. The answer is simple—when that stadium fills, it is a celebration; a celebration of what we humans can do. Football is a celebration of the simplest things like balancing a ball and controlling it with our feet. It is a celebration of humanity in its purest form, and there is no greater reason to be happy.

Messi is the epitome of everything that is football, and by extension, humanity.

In the future, many will wonder if the stories are true and even more will try to mimic him, for they would have already discovered his legend amongst those that came before him. Those of us who grew up watching him become a man from a little boy will reminisce with a smile on our faces, while those who didn’t will try to recollect if he was really that good—maybe there was another who was just as good, if not better?

The truth, however, is that there will only ever be one Messi and if we don’t appreciate him enough today, we might just live to regret it.

Happy Birthday, Leo.

Well you wore out your welcome with random precision

Rode on the steel breeze

Come on you raver, you seer of visions

Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!

Is La Masia dead?

Has the conveyor belt started to fall short?

25th November 2012

For the first time in their history, Barça fielded an entire starting XI of La Masia graduates against Levante and cemented the status of their academy as the best in the world—Lionel Messi scored a brace, and Andres Iniesta ended the match with a goal and four assists to his name.

Levante UD v FC Barcelona - La Liga
Barcelona started the game against Levante with 10 academy players, but after the injury to Alves ended up with an entire XI of La Masia graduates.

After Dani Alves got subbed off in the 14th minute due to an injury, Martin Montoya came on for the Brazilian to mark the historic moment with a line up that went as follows:

Victor Valdes; Martin Montoya, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez, Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi.

Barcelona had worked hard to get to that point, and although the XI was under the managership of the late Tito Vilanova, it was arguably his predecessor Pep Guardiola who oversaw the primes of some of the greatest names from the fabled youth academy.

Fast-forward 5 years, and there’s plenty of discussion as to whether or not the academy has lost some of it’s charm—players who were arguably the future of the club have departed while those who are yet to make their mark in the youth teams find it easier to break in to the XI of another team.

With Mboula being the latest name to depart the Mini Estada and rumours of Seung-Woo Lee considering a move to Dortmund surfacing, the state of the academy is becoming a matter of concern that needs some urgent attention.

To break the story down, we need to understand the “how” before addressing the “why”.

The question one must ask themselves before asking why so many players are leaving, is how Barcelona got to the point of fielding XI players from La Masia in a match.

Barcelona v CA Osasuna - La Liga
The legendary captain appeared 682 times for the Catalans at Youth and Senior levels.

The oldest player from that XI was el capitan Carles Puyol who joined the B team in the summer of ‘96 from Juvenil A, immediately followed by Xavi Hernandez in the summer of ‘97. The duo got promoted to the first team quickly with Xavi making the cut an year earlier than Puyol, in 1999. It wasn’t until 2002 that Victor Valdes would earn his promotion alongside Andres Iniesta and 4 more players that very few fans will remember. A couple of years later, Lionel Messi would earn his call-up alongside 3 more players.

In 2005 and 2006, not a single player managed to get promoted. It wasn’t until 2007 that the club oversaw a mass exodus of the squad with 24 players departing the B team; an additional 8 got promoted into the squad, including Pedro Rodriguez, Oier Olazabal (who quickly returned to the B team), Giovani Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic.

Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao - Copa del Rey Final
Bojan Krkic reportedly scored ~900 goals in Barça’s youth set-up.

In 2008, Barcelona B had another small clean up letting go of 13 players. Sergio Busquets was the only one to have made the step up to the Camp Nou, and also happens to be the last big name that has stood the test of time in Barça’s demanding line-up.

One simple look at the club’s transfer activity shows how the quality of players in the B team has massively improved over the years; what many fail to realise is that Barcelona has gotten exponentially better as well. If this were the 90’s, a lot of the players Barcelona has let go of in recent years, would be guaranteed starters—it’s not the 90’s however, and this is not the same Barça.

Times have changed, and times have certainly gotten stranger over the years, with each year holding the expectation of a Treble—something that would have been ridiculous 10 years ago.

Barcelona Victory Parade
Barcelona celebrated their second treble under the management of Luis Enrique.

It is a little petulant to criticise the way the club functions today when this has always been the way things have operated. It is easy to forget the tens of players who never made it big in the glamour of a starting XI composed of academy players, which explains the general complaint of a more inclusive academy. However, there are always going to be a number of players who don’t make it big; players like Thiago Alcantara and Alex Grimaldo are exceptions and not norms.

It might seem incompetent on behalf of the club to have gotten rid of such talented players on the cheap but in the long run such players will only be names on sheets with people looking at them and wondering how that one got away; I assure you that it will be easy to spot one name amongst a hundred and that is the irony of it all.

(All data from transfermarkt)

Why do Barça want Bellerin?

A break down of the Arsenal full-back

There is absolutely no doubt left in the minds of Culés that Barcelona need a right-back this summer; technically speaking, the club has needed one since last summer. It is a surprise therefore, that it has taken the club so long to come to an agreement with a decent player yet. While the delay in purchase can be excused due to the club’s insistence on keeping pretty accounts, there is no excuse for the club to not have done their homework, and secure a top quality right-back for so long.

Enter, Héctor Bellerin.

The Catalan has been a bit of an enigma ever since he started making waves in the Premier League with Arsenal since his move from La Masia— it is unsurprising then, that the club gets linked to the former academy player when there is a glaring vacancy in the starting line-up for his profile.

While Bellerin and Barça play the usual cat & mouse games during the window, there is plenty of reason to question whether Héctor is really the one that got away.

Below, I’m going to try and list down some pros and cons from the potential arrival of Héctor Bellerin, and come to a decent conclusion as to whether or not, the player will fill our needs on the right side of defence.


Pros:

  • Former academy player

It is difficult to negate the influence of a La Masia background when one is looking at potential transfer targets. Maybe his education will ease him faster into the team, or it won’t—either way, it is a good thing to be acquainted with the club.

  • Pace & dribbling

Héctor Bellerin is quite possibly the fastest footballer on the planet today, and having him in the team will certainly give the Catalans an edge over other when breaking on the counter. The fullback is an excellent dribbler as well, completing ~80% of his take-ons.

  • Tactical symmetry

Bellerin shares a lot of similarities with Barça’s starting left-back Jordi Alba, and having identical profiles on the flanks could potentially allow for more balanced attacks. We’ve all seen how dangerous the combination of Messi and Alba has been over the years, and Bellerin has a shot at something special with Neymar if everything works out. Neymar has made his fair share of cross-field passes before, and having a speed merchant to complement them will be a huge pro.


Cons:

  • Poor defence

Bellerin has quite some defensive frailties, often avoiding a tackle when the situation calls for it. Over-reliance on his pace has led the full-back to try and chase his man down more often than not. With only .75 tackles won per 90, Bellerin falls behind his counterparts in Dani Alves (2.07 per 90), Nelsinho (2.27 per 90) and Ricardo Pereira (2.06 per 90) while putting a similar number of interceptions per 90 (HB: 1.36, DA: 1.53, NS: 1.23, RP: 1.23).

  • Weak crossing

Bellerin shares a lot of traits with Jordi Alba, and that includes the left-back’s ability to cross. Héctor Bellerin completes 0.3 crosses per game, which is quite similar to Alba’s 0.4 per game. For comparison, Juventus’ Alves and Sandro are much better, with 1.4 and 1.3 crosses per game respectively.


I would like to think that the numbers fall short of explaining Barça’s interest in Bellerin, but there is a decent case for the full-back if the club is looking to find a profile that resembles Alba.

Maybe his signing will work and maybe it won’t but there is absolutely no doubt that the club needs a right-back, and the time for locking in a good option is running out.

(All numbers from Squawka and Whoscored)

Transfer Rumours: La Liga & the rest of Europe

Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez and more!

While Barcelona remain quiet in the transfer window, journalists across Europe have run their pens dry talking about which player is going to move where. With plenty of rumors abuzz in the world of football, here are some of the biggest names that are being talked about.


Diego Costa:

Chelsea do not want him, Atletico Madrid can’t buy him, and AC Milan can’t afford him—that is the story of Spanish striker Diego Costa whose future has been in a limbo ever since Antonio Conte decided that the striker would not be counted on in the upcoming season. Former club Atletico are stuck in a transfer embargo which means Costa’s best chance for a move has failed to materialise. While AC Milan continue to remain interested in the forward, paying his hefty £200,000-a-week wage demand will be difficult for the Serie A giants while they oversee a major squad overhaul in anticipation of Europe.

Chelsea v Arsenal - Premier League
Diego Costa was informed via text message that he would not be a part of the plans next season

Things could work out for Costa however, as Atletico are looking to use their Chinese influence and move the striker temporarily to China before buying him back in January.

It could work, but it seems a little too far fetched in my opinion.

Alvaro Morata:

Poised to leave the capital if he doesn’t get enough playing time is Real Madrid man Alvaro Morata who can’t seem to stay out of the news lately.

Manchester United find themselves in pole position to sign the striker after having let go of Zlatan Ibrahimovic earlier this week. Having denied reports of a move to Italy, Morata has ruled out AC Milan from the race for his signature, leaving United as his most likely suitors.

James Rodriguez:

Another Real Madrid player who seems destined to leave the club is Colombian James Rodriguez who has struggled to find game time under Zinedine Zidane this season. Signed for a whopping €80 million from Monaco, Rodriguez continues to remain one of the best 10s in the world and any move will involve major money flowing into Madrid’s coffers.

Real Madrid CF v AS Roma - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
The Colombian has been reduced to a bit-part player under the new management

With James’ step-father publicly stating his desire to see the playmaker leave and get the minutes he deserves, a move is likely to happen sooner rather than later.

Nolito and Navas:

Manchester City are looking forward to a mass exodus, after letting the contracts of a number of players run out. The Spanish duo of Jesus Navas and Nolito seem closer to the exit door than most after falling out of favour with Pep Guardiola and Sevilla are monitoring the situation closely in the hope of bringing them back to Spain on the cheap.

Manchester City v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
Nolito famously rejected BArcelona last season, to link up with former boss Pep Guardiola

Jesus Navas will be happy to learn that his former club are still interested in him, while Nolito would be relieved to finally find game time after his big move to Manchester City ended sourly on the bench.

Alexis Sanchez:

One transfer from Spain to England that definitely didn’t disappoint is the move of Alexis Sanchez who has arguably been one of the best players in the league ever since his arrival from Barcelona. The dynamic Chilean has been instrumental in keeping Arsenal at a high level and the fact that he hasn’t signed a new contract has the management concerned.

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League
Alexis Sanchez refuses to renew his contract

In the wake of Arsenal finishing fifth in the league and failing to qualify for Champions League football, Alexis appears to be weighing his options with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Bayern Munich interested in the talisman. While Antonio Conte is a long term admirer, Former boss Pep Guardiola is looking for someone to lead his attack and Bayern Munich need someone who can take over from the aging Franck Ribery.

Why Valverde is the right choice for Barcelona

He may not be a big name but he has plenty to offer

We love making lists here at BB, but we’ve heard some doubts and questions over whether Ernesto Valverde really is the best choice to replace Luis Enrique.

So without any further ado, let’s cut straight to the chase and give you three reasons why Valverde is the right man for Barcelona!

He’s great at promoting youth

I love the idea of having a bunch of academy players in the squad—there is something exciting about having a squad brimming with academy talent that’s waiting for a shot to represent the jersey on the biggest stage.

If that’s exactly what you’re looking for too, then Valverde is your man. The former Athletic manager is known for his extensive utilisation of academy players, including the likes of Ander Herrera, Aymeric Laporte, and Inaki Williams.

Say what you want about Valverde but he sure knows what it takes to make the transition from the academy to the Liga, and Barca is in dire need of someone who can reestablish faith in the prospect of promotion for young players.

Excellent defensive structure

Despite being a team full of stars, Barca has never quite been a team known for their defensive abilities. While the club has always been known for its quality in the attacking third, Barca continue to remain behind most top teams in their defensive game. While some could argue that Barca has benefitted from their aggressive attacking prowess, the need for a sound defensive structure is paramount in a world where being good at just one tactic no longer guarantees trophies.

Gone are the days when teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus could get away with exclusively keeping possession, or counter-attacking or playing an unbreakable defence—most teams have developed a hybrid that amalgamates all these unique styles into one working tactic and Barca need to get their defensive structure in order if they wish to keep up with the times and get back to title-winning ways.

Valverde might have his shortcomings but one of his biggest strengths is organising a working defensive ideology that depends on teamwork and determination, making him the need of the hour.

Simplicity is key

There are quite a number of managerial options available on the market which makes Valverde’s signing a bit of an anticlimax to most fans. However, if one were to recall, Barca has never really gone after the big names of the managing world—from Lucho to Tata Martino, Guardiola to Tito, all of Barca’s last four coaches were hardly known as world-beaters at the time of their appointment but managed to push the club forward either through silverware or through ideologies. Even Tata Martino can be credited with introducing the club to a more direct style that wasn’t seen for a long time at the Camp Nou.

While Valverde is not a tactical genius like Pep, he comes with a pragmatic winning mentality that is crucial to success. He might not organise his team as stylistically as Guardiola or Lucho, but he will give us a fresh take on our possession-based attacking style.

Valverde and his simple approach of playing to his team’s strengths is exactly what the club needs after Luis Enrique’s “Frankenstein-ish”approach to line-ups and tactics—for a change, it will be nice to see some of the players finally playing in their actual roles.

So that’s my list of why I think Ernesto Valverde is the ideal coach to lead Barca forward. Got your own list of reasons? Share them in the comments below!

Barcelona 2016/17 Review: Best Signing of the Season

We have a clear winner in this one!

When I was first tasked with covering the best transfer of the season, I thought it was going to be the easiest post I could have written—I had a clear choice, everyone would agree unanimously, and all would be well in the Barca-verse. But as I sat down to actually do the deed, I realised that I was tasked with the impossible—what could I possibly say about Samuel Umtiti that hadn’t been said already? Could I discuss his ability on the ball? Or maybe his aerial prowess? Surely I could talk about his fantastic sense of positioning?!

I tried, and I fell short.

There’s a lot to say about Umtiti and how great he has been in the heart of defence for Barcelona but one of the many things that often goes unspoken is how seamless his transition has been in to the first team.

Barcelona and its defence haven’t been the same since Carles Puyol decided to hang up his boots; Javier Mascherano did a commendable job of taking over from el capitan, but the little chief could never quite truly fill in. What he lacked in ability, Mascherano made up for, in tenacity. However, the honest truth is that there is no overlooking of defensive frailties for a centre-back—the role is demanding and the margin for error is non-existent at a club like Barca.

After multiple failed attempts and years of stop-gaps in the role, I had forgotten what a dominating centre-back partnership looked like—that is, till the arrival of Umtiti.

I had already seen the Frenchman at Lyon, and was expecting him to be crucial in phasing out Mascherano from the starting XI. However, nothing could have prepared me for the outright authority of Big Sam in defence.

Not only did he freeze Mascherano out, he formed a formidable partnership with Gerard Pique and was arguably a better performer than the World Cup winner throughout the season. While it is well accepted the Pique has done his best to take up the mantle of being a defensive leader, the substantial lack of quality around him has often been Barca’s crucifix. The defensive stability that we’ve witnessed this season in spite of the lack of a true right-back goes a long way into emphasising just how crucial Umtiti has truly been in holding the fort.

After watching Puyol put his body in jeopardy time & again for the sake of the jersey and witnessing the club failing to fill the void that the captain left in the wake of his retirement, I can safely say today, that Barcelona have finally accomplished what they set out to do nearly five years ago—they have found someone worthy of taking Carles Puyol’s place.

While there will be many names contesting the race to be the second best signing from last season, I think the French centre-back has quite rightly run away with being the best of the lot.

Lucas Digne

My second favourite player from this season’s new recruits is another Frenchman; there are many who dislike the fact that Barca went out and got Digne despite the presence of a world-class potential in their own ranks. However, for what it’s worth, Lucas has done just enough to warrant a place as the second best signing—while some would argue that the full-back did not do enough to inspire confidence, I’d like to say that he did just enough to be a solid bench piece throughout the season.

Switching between being a left-back and a centre-back, the strong Frenchman continued to put in solid showings on a consistent basis, unlike the rather hot ‘n’ cold nature of the rest of the arrivals. Ignored for a large part of the season on the left flank by Neymar, Digne still managed to display his defensive efficiency every time he was forced into action and that’s exactly the kind of attitude one needs to perform when called upon from the bench.

Andre Gomes

It is difficult to quantify Gomes’ performances. For starters, the Portuguese arrived for big money from Valencia and has been floating around in the line-up ever since. From the wings, to defence and every role in midfield, Gomes played just about every position Luis Enrique could think of. While a part of it was a consequence of his exhorbitant price tag, a major contributing factor was the lack of appropriate squad planning.

However, the midfielder did enough to convince part of the fan-base and the club that he deserves his place in the squad, and should be given another shot to prove his value to the club—I agree.

Paco Alcacer

Another player from Valencia with a big price tag and the baggage of having forced out an academy player, Paco Alcacer comes with the preconceived notions surrounding both Digne and Gomes, but was not provided with as many chances as the the duo to show just what he could do.

Coming in with little pre-season, Alcacer started slow but eventually managed to find his scoring boots, helping Barca secure the Copa del Rey. More playing time and the support of the fans and club should do wonders for this promising player.

Denis Suarez

While Paco Alcacer started the season on a low and ended it on a high, Denis Suarez started strong and drifted off into mediocrity. After some excellent performances including his notable chemistry with Lionel Messi, Denis Suarez experienced a drastic reduction in his minutes as his performances continued to be wildly inconsistent.

While the player is talented and has a bright future ahead, I personally do not see him ever truly finding a place in the Barcelona squad.

Jasper Cillessen

Brought in as back-up and competition to Ter Stegen, it is safe to say that the Dutchman is a strong second choice and that’s the only thing that matters. Besides, he did manage to save a crucial penalty for us, despite his horrendous record at them.

The former Ajax man however, is over qualified for the role of a back-up and it shouldn’t be a surprise If the shot stopper decides to depart Catalonia for a larger share of minutes on the pitch.

Barcelona 4-2 Eibar, La Liga 2017: Match Review

It was three points but it wasn’t quite enough

Barcelona went into the final game with very few options. If Real Madrid won or drew against Malaga, the title would go to los Blancos. If Barca lost or drew, then their title hopes would also be over. In fact the only scenario that saw Luis Enrique’s side emerge as champions was Madrid losing and the Blaugrana winning.

A long shot certainly, but could Enrique and his side deliver a shock on the final day? Was it possible for them to retain the title?


First Half:

Kick off

Barcelona named a strong team but without Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano handed Marlon Santos a start. While the hosts were forced to defend in the opening minutes, Real Madrid had already taken the lead at La Rosaleda through Cristiano Ronaldo.

If an early goal for Madrid was bad, things got even worse for Barca as Eibar stunned the Camp Nou by taking the lead through Takashi Inui who put the ball past Ter Stegen with a composed finish from a beautiful delivery.

0-1, Eibar.

Barcelona countered almost instantly as Luis Suarez found himself one-on-one with only the goalkeeper to beat but somehow contrived to put the ball wide. An incredible chance with an incredibly disappointing finish.

The early goal had given Barcelona a renewed urgency in attack and half-chances began to appear. Suarez went close, after a pull-back to the penalty spot, but was rightly called offside. The Uruguayan would try again shortly afterwards, but his shot was weak, and deflected with ease. The press from Eibar had worn off within 15 minutes and apart from a couple of poor chances, Barcelona had taken control of the game, but they needed a goal, and they needed it fast.

Elsewhere, Malaga were trying their best as they pushed men into the final third, hoping for a miracle. At Camp Nou, Messi and Neymar were beginning to link beautifully with some slick one-twos. If the Catalans kept this kind of play up, there would surely find that equaliser, wouldn’t they?

The ball spent almost all its time in the opposition half, at the feet of a Blaugrana shirt. However, with time running out in the first half, the pressure was on Barca to score. Suarez nearly did that, as he had another brilliant chance to equalise, only for the keeper to draw a magnificent save from close range. While Yoel was channelling his inner Buffon and denying Barca at the Camp Nou, Malaga man Kameni was doing the same to keep Barca’s title hopes alive. Former Barcelona man Sandro Ramirez was also doing his bit, nearly scoring as he struck the crossbar in the 40th minute against Real Madrid.

Barcelona however, were not quite themselves and they nearly conceded, after Pena outfoxed the defence and get a shot away. As the referee called for half-time, it was clear that the hosts needed to improve if they were to take all three points from the game.

Second Half:

Barcelona returned for the second half with a switch as Sergi Roberto was replaced by Andre Gomes. Perhaps the Portuguese was a controversial choice, but Roberto seemed to have a knock and Barca needed inspiration from somewhere, anywhere.

Andres Iniesta had a pop on goal, as the captain struck after a clever pull-back from Neymar but could not beat the goalkeeper.Messi may have a magical left foot but his infamous right foot did him no favours as the Argentine managed to put his shot wide, from what was the ultimate scoring opportunity set up by Suarez.

However, by this time Real Madrid had scored their second of the night and as the table stood, it wouldn’t matter how many Barcelona got, the title was firmly in their rivals’ grasp and Enrique’s side were left hoping for a miracle.

However, the miracle never arrived, and indeed the evening got even worse as Inui scored his second of the game from the left edge of the box with a thundering half volley right under the crossbar, past Ter Stegen.

0-2, Malaga.

Barcelona’s response was almost instant and badly needed, as they managed to force an own goal. Neymar’s attempt ricocheted off a defender to reduce Barca’s deficit and give the hosts hope.

1-2, with Malaga still leading.

Barcelona had managed to create a number of chances but their finishing had let them down all night long, and to be realistic, there seemed little chance that the Catalans would suddenly switch gears and start scoring at will.

Barca however, were afforded a lifeline as Jordi Alba tumbled in the box, and the referee somehow managed to award a penalty, despite there being no-one near the defender when he fell.

Messi took the shot, but the Argentine’s shot was saved by an exceptional stop from Yoel. The game was still firmly in Eibar’s hands until Suarez equalised with a perfectly legitimate goal as the striker drove home after a header from Paco Alcacer who had replaced Ivan Rakitic moments before.

2-2.

As if sensing victory now, Neymar raced forward and won a penalty and a dismissal as Ander Capa was shown a second yellow after challenging the Brazilian. Up stepped Messi once more, but this time, the Argentine didn’t miss, just. Finally, Barca were ahead.

3-2, Barcelona.

The confidence was starting to show now in the way the Catalans passed the ball around and although Madrid were still winning, Barca were at least doing their bit.

The Blaugrana managed to capitalise on the mistakes of Eibar, but the away side were not ones to go down without a fight. Eibar continued to push men forward despite being a goal down with 10 men.

After a sensational save from Yoel to deny Suarez yet again, Messi put the ball behind the keeper after a sensational run, to score his 37th goal of the campaign, his 200th Liga goal at Camp Nou.

4-2, Barcelona.

The full whistle blew, giving Barcelona victory as they finished the season with 90 points to end La Liga in second place.

________________________________________________________

A disappointing night indeed but Barcelona did their bit to finish the season in the best possible manner and there is only one way left for the Catalans, and that is forwards.

Until next time…Onwards and upwards!

Visca el Barca!

Las Palmas 1-4 Barcelona, La Liga 2017: Match Review

An unconventional line-up but three more points for Luis Enrique

Barça visited the Canary Islands with the hope of piling the pressure on Real Madrid – the Catalans squared off against Las Palmas away from home, and there was no margin for error.

A last minute change from Luis Enrique gave Marlon Santos his first start in La Liga alongside Samuel Umtiti in the heart of defence after Javier Mascherano was injured in the warm-up.

Would the Blaugrana finish their penultimate game in La Liga on a high, or would Las Palmas exploit their inexperienced back-line and send the Catalans home disappointed?


First Half:

Kick off.

Barcelona began with some early passes between the unfamiliar back-line of Digne, Marlon, Umtiti and Jordi Alba, with the former PSG man playing on the right in place of the suspended Sergi Roberto.

Two minutes in, Andres Iniesta delivered a defence-slicing through ball for Lionel Messi into the opposition box, but the Argentine was a yard too short.

A beautiful piece of play as Alba found Messi after running through into acres of space. The Argentine however, ran into a wall of defenders and his cross which fell to Suarez at an odd angle, went out for a corner.

Moments later, Jese broke free for Las Palmas on the counter and forced a professional foul from Digne. Despite Jese being through on goal, the referee let him off with just a yellow card.

A spell of possession began for Las Palmas as they began to work their way towards Ter Stegen’s goal. Barcelona however, forced an overturn and began applying pressure on the Las Palmas goal in return.

Las Palmas broke into another counter with Jese and Mesa linking up outside the Barça box, only for the resulting cross from the right to fall straight to Sergio Busquets who poked the ball out of danger.

Within minutes, Digne collided with Jonathan Viera as they both duelled for the ball in the air. Watching Digne head into the challenge with his elbow raised, it would have been fair to say that the full-back should have been off the pitch by this point—really lucky.

Twenty-five minutes into the half, Barça broke the deadlock as Suarez latched onto an Iniesta through-ball and squared it to Neymar, who didn’t miss from close range—despite having played toe-to-toe with Barça for almost half an hour, Las Palmas just couldn’t match Barça’s quality.

0-1, Barcelona.

A minute later, Barcelona scored their second as Neymar returned the favour and delivered a beautiful early cross from the wing, to Suarez who was loitering on the shoulders of his compatriot Lemos. Suarez chipped the ball cheekily past the keeper to double Barça’s lead.

0-2, Barcelona.

Las Palmas tried countering through Mesa but his shot was straight at Ter Stegen. The Canaries needed to score early, or they stood the chance of tiring themselves out. Despite a couple more half chances, their attempts fell just short of registering a goal.

A great chance fell to Barça as Alba received a Messi-ball to set up Neymar. The Brazilian however was blocked by Lemos and couldn’t manage to get a decent touch on the ball.

The referee blew his whistle to end the opening half after a minute of stoppage time, giving Las Palmas plenty to think about as they went back to their dressing room.

Second Half:

Las Palmas kicked off the second half with some early pressure on Barcelona with a high line.

The Catalans absorbed pressure in the hope of countering, and did just that, when Messi played a one-two with Alba before taking a shot from near the penalty spot, only for Lemos to stick his thigh in and deflect the Argentine’s shot.

Ten minutes into the second half, Enrique made his first switch of the game, with Andre Gomes making his way onto the field for Digne, who seemed to have a picked up a calf problem.

With the Portuguese in unfamiliar territory at right-back, Barça’s defence looked haywire and disorganised once more and Las Palmas breathed some life into their game with a first touch goal for Bigas, who finished from close range.

1-2.

With a little over 20 minutes left, Neymar headed the ball into the Las Palmas goal from a beautifully delivered Rakitic cross.

That seemed like game set and match unless Las Palmas could pull a miracle out of their blue pockets.

1-3, Barcelona.

If there were any doubts about the game, Neymar put them to rest by scoring his third of the game from an absurd angle after an Alba lay-off.

1-4, Barcelona.

Alen Halilovic made his way onto the pitch, hoping to add an attacking dimension to Las Palmas, but with very little time to make a difference, the chances of making an impact were slim for the Croatian.

With 10 minutes on the clock, Barcelona replaced Suarez and Ivan Rakitic with Paco Alcacer and Denis Suarez.

Despite time running out, both teams continued to pressure the opposition hoping to add another goal. However, with only two minutes of stoppage time, the referee blew his three pips to bring an end to the game.


With Barça having done their bit to keep the title challenge alive, the nous falls on Real Madrid to drop points in their upcoming fixtures if Barça want to stand a chance of retaining their league title.

Here’s to hoping that by some miracle, Zidane and his men lose at least one of their upcoming fixtures.

Until then, onwards and upwards.

Three things Luis Enrique needs to do against Las Palmas

This one’s a potential banana skin…

Luis Enrique hasn’t put a foot wrong in La Liga for quite some time now—last week’s match against Villarreal was almost perfect tactically. Not only has Lucho managed to fix the tactical issues that have plagued the Catalans all season, he has even gotten his substitutions right this time around, which makes this week nothing more than a banana skin; if Barça want to keep their hopes alive of winning the league alive, they simply cannot afford to slip up.

Las Palmas have managed to win only three of their last 16 games which puts them in no position to realistically trouble the Catalans. With that in mind, here are three things that Lucho needs to do, if he wants to take away all three points from Las Palmas.

1. Find an effective way to play the 3-4-3

With Sergi Roberto suspended for the fixture due, Barça are unfortunately left with no real options on the bench for the right side of defence.

While it is possible to experiment with someone like Denis Suarez slotting in a traditional 4-3-3, the idea seems outrageous at this stage of the season; three at the back is the way to go.

FC Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
Mascherano is expected to stay next season as the third choice in central defence.

A defence of Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano seems strong on paper. However, the three-man back-line does have its disadvantages with Barça often being stretched wide and looking disorganised on the counter—the Catalans need an effective way to play the 3-4-3, and they need it now.

2. Contain Jonathan Viera and Roque Mesa

Kevin-Prince Boateng has been in the spotlight this season, becoming top scorer for the Canary Islanders with 10 goals in La Liga. However, there are two other names who have been responsible for conducting the Las Palmas midfield — Viera and Mesa.

Rayo Vallecano v UD Las Palmas - La Liga
Mesa has been Las Palmas’ main man in midfield this season.

While Mesa is more of an orchestrator, who sits deep in a double pivot, Viera is capable of playing on the left flank and operating in the hole. Mesa has a passing accuracy of 91% (2076 passes completed) which means that closing him down quickly should allow Barça to gain control of the midfield, and dictate the tempo of the game.

Viera on the other hand has seven goals and seven assists making him a dangerously productive players. The attacking midfielder has created 78 chances and 71 key passes this season, with a passing accuracy of 85% of which a staggering 61% are forward passes.

Keeping these two in check will be key to dominating the game and avoiding any potential mishaps that could derail the Blaugrana.

3. Give Sergi Palencia minutes

While this might seem risky, Sergi Palencia deserves a run in La Liga and there will not be a better opportunity to do it than against Las Palmas.

Anderlecht v Barcelona - UEFA Youth League
Palencia is expected to be the back-up right-back for Barcelona next season.

The Badalona-born defender just captained the B team to the top of their group and with rumours of his potential promotion starting to pop up, it seems like the player has exactly what it takes to make the step up to the prime-time.

Even if it’s for just 10 minutes, Palencia deserves to be on the pitch, especially considering the fact that Barça have no viable right-backs at the moment and it will allow the 21 year old to guage himself in an environment that’s tougher than the Segunda.

(All stats from Squawka.com)


What do you think Lucho needs to do against Las Palmas this weekend? Let us know in the comments below!

Lionel Messi shows off his insane shirt collection

He’s got some big names in there…

Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer on the planet today and from the looks of it his shirt collection is out of this world too.

Swapping shirts after the game is an age-old tradition in football, showing appreciation and respect, although Messi has revealed recently it’s something he rarely indulges in.

The Argentine revealed recently, to Spanish publication Invictos, that the only player he has ever asked for a shirt from was Zinedine Zidane.

However, for someone who doesn’t like to swap shirts, Messi sure has a collection that is absolutely packed with some of the biggest names in the world.

A post shared by Leo Messi (@leomessi) on

His collection includes jerseys from the likes of Raul, Deco, Thierry Henry, Pavel Nedved, Philipp Lahm, Iker Casillas and Francesco Totti as well as current Barca stars Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez.

However, although some of those names are understandable, I cannot help but ask myself, why is a West Ham “Lanzini” jersey occupying some prime real estate on the maestro’s wall of fame?!